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Displaying items by tag: sightings

#MarineWildlife - Humpback whales caught in a feeding frenzy off the Blasket Islands last week points to a potential bounty of big whale sightings over the winter months, as Nick Massett writes on the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group website.

A large aggregation of six humpback whales - a quarter of all those previously catalogued in the area - was witnessed feeding west of the Foze Rocks on Saturday 14 September.

Seven in total have been identified this year off the Blaskets, and with no sightings elsewhere around the Irish coast it's believed the humpbacks are content to feed exclusively within the Dingle Bay area for now.

Of course this is just the start of the big whale season, and the IWDG's Pádraig Whooley indicates that larger species such as the humpback and the commonly sighted fin whale - the longest ocean animal behind the elusive blue whale - are beginning to move inshore in greater numbers.

Even at that, inshore records "are likely to be the tip of a much larger iceberg", as imagery captured by the Irish Air Corps shows an incredible nine-strong group of fin whales feeding offshore along the Porcupine Blight where the water depth reaches more than 1km.

"But if this year pans out like previous years, the best has still yet to come," writes Whooley, "as historically the months November to January are the peak period for the "herring hog" inshore along the Irish south coast."

All this good news comes tinged with a some sadness, however, considering the rising trend of strandings of whales and dolphins on the Irish coastline - itself potential evidence of ill health among the whale and dolphin populations that visit our shores.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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#MARINE WILDLIFE - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has confirmed a new humpback whale sighting, this time in Northern Ireland.

According to the IWDG, this is the third consecutive year that a humpback whale has been spotted in Northern Irish waters, with this sighting being only the fourth ever validated record for the species in the North.

IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley described it as "an important development [that] highlights a trend towards increased sightings of this large baleen whale species in Irish waters."

He also remarked on the "unusual" location of the sighting in the fast-running waters of the Strangford Narrows at the Ards Peninsula.

The discovery comes just a week after confirmed sighting of two humpback whales at the opposite end of the island of Ireland, off Galley Head in West Cork, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MARINE WILDLIFE - This past weekend saw confirmation that two humpback whales have made an unseasonal visit to Irish waters.

As previously noted on Afloat.ie, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) had received reports of a sighting of the large cetaceans by birdwatchers off Galley Head in West Cork - an event described as "unusual" by sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley.

But as the Irish Independent reports, those sightings have now been confirmed after IWDG members spotted the humpback pair near The Stags at Castlehaven harbour.

The team was able to get close enough to collect skin samples as well as photo identification, which confirmed that one of the duo is completely new to these waters.

Whooley commented: "Why these two young humpbacks are here during spring, when years of data shows them to be absent in these months, is a mystery."

The Irish Independent has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MARINE WILDLIFE - At least two humpback whales have been spotted by birdwatchers off Galley Head in West Cork, according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

"This is the first time since the large whale project commenced in 1999 that humpback whales have been recorded along the Irish south or coast during April, which has been up till now the one month in which large whales have consistently been absent from our inshore waters," said IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley.

The timing of this sighting was described by Whooley as "unusual". He also confirmed that one of the whales was recorded off Hook Head in Co Wexford in late January and early February of this year, which dispells the hypothesis that large whales leave Irish waters after the herring season in the southeast.

Meanwhile, Whooley sounded a word of caution for anyone hoping to spot the humpbacks for themselves, as the "sheer numbers of basking sharks about" often result in false sightings.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has more on the story, including images, HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MARINE WILDLIFE - Two killer whales have been spotted near Kinsale in recent weeks, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reports.

Two separate sightings of the orca pair near Barry's Head have been confirmed by the group, via photos provided by John Murphy and Richard Cussen on 5 March, during what is normally the 'low season' for whale watching in Ireland.

The pair comprises one adult male and a smaller whale which is likely an adult female. It is not yet known, however, whether the whales are new to Irish or Scottish waters.

According to the IWDG's Pádraig Whooley, it is "interesting that they have stayed close to their original position and suggests they may have found 'rich pickings'".

In other news, the Whale and Dolphin Roadshow will be at the Galway Shopping Centre from 22-25 March in time for the European Cetacean Society Conference.

The roadshow "is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about whales, dolphins and porpoise of the ASCOBANS region" that encompasses the Baltic Sea, Northeast Atlantic and Irish and North Seas.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MARINE WILDLIFE - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) has announced another series of its popular whale watching courses on Cape Clear in West Cork this summer.

The courses cater for adults keen to learn more about whales and dolphins in Irish waters and how to observe, record and identify them. They will feature a mixture of workshops and field trips, including cliff and boat-based whale watches.

Three weekend courses will take place on 25-27 May, 20-22 July and 7-9 September, led by IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley. All are open to IWDG members and non-members alike, but places are limited to 20 places each weekend on a first-come-first-served basis.

Admission is €70 for IWDG members (€90 for non-members), with a non-refundable deposit of €25 required. Please note that this fee does not cover transport to Cape Clear, food or accomodation (which is limited in high summer) or any boat trips. As the itinerary will be weather-dependant, some flexibility will be required.

More information on the weekends and booking details are available at the IWDG website HERE.

In other IWDG news, the group has secured another grant from the Island Foundation to continue its humpback whale research in Cape Verde this spring and summer.

A shore-based team will be stationed in Boa Vista in an area that is "possibly the most important site for breeding humbacks in the entire northeast Atlantic".

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MARINE WILDLIFE - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has confirmed the sighting of a humpback whale off Achill Island in Co Mayo last weekend.

Surfers off Keel Beach were credited with the discovery, after spotting a large whale of 30-60ft breaking the surface multiple times, lifting its tail fluke vertically.

The sighting is only the fifth validated record of a humpback whale off the coastal area from Galway to Donegal.

"It remains something of a mystery as to why sightings of this species remain such relatively rare events along our west and northwest compared to our south and southwest coasts," says IWDG sightings co-ordinator Pádraig Whooley.

"This latest sighting is a timely reminder that species such as humpbacks can and do turn up in places that are well outside what we perceive to be the known 'hotspots'."

Humpback whales tend to feed in inshore waters, which should make them increasingly easier for the public to spot from the shore, he added.

The IWDG has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MARINE WILDLIFE - A "feeding frenzy" involving a pod of fin whales was spotted off Hook Head in Co Wexford last week, The Irish Times reports.

And according to Andrew Malcolm of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG), two of the whales were in the same location almost exactly a year ago.

Malcolm, who was with a group on board the Rebecca C, used photographs of the whale's dorsal fins to compare records for the confirmation.

The pod of six fin whales was seen feeding some 3km southeast of Hook Head, attracted by the herring spawning grounds in the area.

More than 30 other cetaceans, including common dolphins, porpoises and a minke whale, were sighted on the trip.

The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MARINE WILDLIFE - The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) says 2011 was a record year for whale and dolphin strandings, according to The Irish Times.

IWDG co-ordinator Dr Simon Berrow confirmed a total of 160 strandings reported by year's end.

"This is by far the highest total for the number of stranding records and the third highest total for sighting records since the IWDG recording schemes were established in 1991," he said.

The 2011 record compares to a figure of 92 stranded cetaceans in 2010 - a number much lower than previous years.

Dr Berrow explained to BBC News: "The figures for 2010 were very low, and, we think, this was due to the easterly winds that year. But now we are back up to the kind of level we expect."

Stranding records in 2011 were characterised by a very high peak of common dolphin strandings during February and a high number of porpoise strandings during the winter.

Meanwhile, Dr Berrow considered the latest sightings record "very impressive" given the exceptionally poor sea conditions during autumn and winter.

More than 1,500 whale and dolphin sightings were made in 2011 around the entire coastline of Ireland despite the bad weather.

Published in Marine Wildlife

#MARINE WILDLIFE - They were thought to have disappeared from the east coast in October after delighting wildlife enthusiasts in Dublin and Wicklow.

But concerns that one of the group had died were swept side when the pod of three bottlenose dolphins was once again spotted off Killiney recently.

The Wicklow People reports that the two adults and one juvenile reappeared almost two weeks ago, and have been seen daily "putting on great displays of leaping, breaching, and tail slapping".

Fears were that tragedy had befallen the group when two bottlenoses were seen off Skerries and Balbriggan in late October, and a juvenile was found dead in Portmarnock shortly after.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie, some 200 sightings of the dolphins between Dalkey Island and Wicklow town in recent months were validated by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).

According to the IWDG, evidence suggests that the pod is now resident off the east coast.

The Wicklow People has more on the story HERE.

Published in Marine Wildlife
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Ireland's Offshore Renewable Energy

Because of Ireland's location at the Atlantic edge of the EU, it has more offshore energy potential than most other countries in Europe. The conditions are suitable for the development of the full range of current offshore renewable energy technologies.

Offshore Renewable Energy FAQs

Offshore renewable energy draws on the natural energy provided by wind, wave and tide to convert it into electricity for industry and domestic consumption.

Offshore wind is the most advanced technology, using fixed wind turbines in coastal areas, while floating wind is a developing technology more suited to deeper water. In 2018, offshore wind provided a tiny fraction of global electricity supply, but it is set to expand strongly in the coming decades into a USD 1 trillion business, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). It says that turbines are growing in size and in power capacity, which in turn is "delivering major performance and cost improvements for offshore wind farms".

The global offshore wind market grew nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018, according to the IEA, due to rapid technology improvements, It calculated that about 150 new offshore wind projects are in active development around the world. Europe in particular has fostered the technology's development, led by Britain, Germany and Denmark, but China added more capacity than any other country in 2018.

A report for the Irish Wind Energy Assocation (IWEA) by the Carbon Trust – a British government-backed limited company established to accelerate Britain's move to a low carbon economy - says there are currently 14 fixed-bottom wind energy projects, four floating wind projects and one project that has yet to choose a technology at some stage of development in Irish waters. Some of these projects are aiming to build before 2030 to contribute to the 5GW target set by the Irish government, and others are expected to build after 2030. These projects have to secure planning permission, obtain a grid connection and also be successful in a competitive auction in the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).

The electricity generated by each turbine is collected by an offshore electricity substation located within the wind farm. Seabed cables connect the offshore substation to an onshore substation on the coast. These cables transport the electricity to land from where it will be used to power homes, farms and businesses around Ireland. The offshore developer works with EirGrid, which operates the national grid, to identify how best to do this and where exactly on the grid the project should connect.

The new Marine Planning and Development Management Bill will create a new streamlined system for planning permission for activity or infrastructure in Irish waters or on the seabed, including offshore wind farms. It is due to be published before the end of 2020 and enacted in 2021.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE.

There are a number of companies aiming to develop offshore wind energy off the Irish coast and some of the larger ones would be ESB, SSE Renewables, Energia, Statkraft and RWE. Is there scope for community involvement in offshore wind? The IWEA says that from the early stages of a project, the wind farm developer "should be engaging with the local community to inform them about the project, answer their questions and listen to their concerns". It says this provides the community with "the opportunity to work with the developer to help shape the final layout and design of the project". Listening to fishing industry concerns, and how fishermen may be affected by survey works, construction and eventual operation of a project is "of particular concern to developers", the IWEA says. It says there will also be a community benefit fund put in place for each project. It says the final details of this will be addressed in the design of the RESS (see below) for offshore wind but it has the potential to be "tens of millions of euro over the 15 years of the RESS contract". The Government is also considering the possibility that communities will be enabled to invest in offshore wind farms though there is "no clarity yet on how this would work", the IWEA says.

Based on current plans, it would amount to around 12 GW of offshore wind energy. However, the IWEA points out that is unlikely that all of the projects planned will be completed. The industry says there is even more significant potential for floating offshore wind off Ireland's west coast and the Programme for Government contains a commitment to develop a long-term plan for at least 30 GW of floating offshore wind in our deeper waters.

There are many different models of turbines. The larger a turbine, the more efficient it is in producing electricity at a good price. In choosing a turbine model the developer will be conscious of this ,but also has to be aware the impact of the turbine on the environment, marine life, biodiversity and visual impact. As a broad rule an offshore wind turbine will have a tip-height of between 165m and 215m tall. However, turbine technology is evolving at a rapid rate with larger more efficient turbines anticipated on the market in the coming years.

 

The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme is designed to support the development of renewable energy projects in Ireland. Under the scheme wind farms and solar farms compete against each other in an auction with the projects which offer power at the lowest price awarded contracts. These contracts provide them with a guaranteed price for their power for 15 years. If they obtain a better price for their electricity on the wholesale market they must return the difference to the consumer.

Yes. The first auction for offshore renewable energy projects is expected to take place in late 2021.

Cost is one difference, and technology is another. Floating wind farm technology is relatively new, but allows use of deeper water. Ireland's 50-metre contour line is the limit for traditional bottom-fixed wind farms, and it is also very close to population centres, which makes visibility of large turbines an issue - hence the attraction of floating structures Do offshore wind farms pose a navigational hazard to shipping? Inshore fishermen do have valid concerns. One of the first steps in identifying a site as a potential location for an offshore wind farm is to identify and assess the level of existing marine activity in the area and this particularly includes shipping. The National Marine Planning Framework aims to create, for the first time, a plan to balance the various kinds of offshore activity with the protection of the Irish marine environment. This is expected to be published before the end of 2020, and will set out clearly where is suitable for offshore renewable energy development and where it is not - due, for example, to shipping movements and safe navigation.

YEnvironmental organisations are concerned about the impact of turbines on bird populations, particularly migrating birds. A Danish scientific study published in 2019 found evidence that larger birds were tending to avoid turbine blades, but said it didn't have sufficient evidence for smaller birds – and cautioned that the cumulative effect of farms could still have an impact on bird movements. A full environmental impact assessment has to be carried out before a developer can apply for planning permission to develop an offshore wind farm. This would include desk-based studies as well as extensive surveys of the population and movements of birds and marine mammals, as well as fish and seabed habitats. If a potential environmental impact is identified the developer must, as part of the planning application, show how the project will be designed in such a way as to avoid the impact or to mitigate against it.

A typical 500 MW offshore wind farm would require an operations and maintenance base which would be on the nearby coast. Such a project would generally create between 80-100 fulltime jobs, according to the IWEA. There would also be a substantial increase to in-direct employment and associated socio-economic benefit to the surrounding area where the operation and maintenance hub is located.

The recent Carbon Trust report for the IWEA, entitled Harnessing our potential, identified significant skills shortages for offshore wind in Ireland across the areas of engineering financial services and logistics. The IWEA says that as Ireland is a relatively new entrant to the offshore wind market, there are "opportunities to develop and implement strategies to address the skills shortages for delivering offshore wind and for Ireland to be a net exporter of human capital and skills to the highly competitive global offshore wind supply chain". Offshore wind requires a diverse workforce with jobs in both transferable (for example from the oil and gas sector) and specialist disciplines across apprenticeships and higher education. IWEA have a training network called the Green Tech Skillnet that facilitates training and networking opportunities in the renewable energy sector.

It is expected that developing the 3.5 GW of offshore wind energy identified in the Government's Climate Action Plan would create around 2,500 jobs in construction and development and around 700 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. The Programme for Government published in 2020 has an enhanced target of 5 GW of offshore wind which would create even more employment. The industry says that in the initial stages, the development of offshore wind energy would create employment in conducting environmental surveys, community engagement and development applications for planning. As a site moves to construction, people with backgrounds in various types of engineering, marine construction and marine transport would be recruited. Once the site is up and running , a project requires a team of turbine technicians, engineers and administrators to ensure the wind farm is fully and properly maintained, as well as crew for the crew transfer vessels transporting workers from shore to the turbines.

The IEA says that today's offshore wind market "doesn't even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets". It estimates that offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420 000 Terawatt hours per year (TWh/yr) worldwide – as in more than 18 times the current global electricity demand. One Terawatt is 114 megawatts, and to put it in context, Scotland it has a population a little over 5 million and requires 25 TWh/yr of electrical energy.

Not as advanced as wind, with anchoring a big challenge – given that the most effective wave energy has to be in the most energetic locations, such as the Irish west coast. Britain, Ireland and Portugal are regarded as most advanced in developing wave energy technology. The prize is significant, the industry says, as there are forecasts that varying between 4000TWh/yr to 29500TWh/yr. Europe consumes around 3000TWh/year.

The industry has two main umbrella organisations – the Irish Wind Energy Association, which represents both onshore and offshore wind, and the Marine Renewables Industry Association, which focuses on all types of renewable in the marine environment.

©Afloat 2020

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